Caste and Wealth Determines ‘Power’ Access

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Socio- economic Inequalities Govern Electrification Rate in India.

Farah Zehra, Lucknow

The government of India and as well as state governments is pushing ‘Electricity To All’ program in a big way. The results have been encouraging as more and more villages get power lines and supply. But a major factor remains as a hindrance to the program that the ‘power’ remains limited to the wealthy and upper caste people. Access to electricity is far from reality to the poor and people from lower castes.

During the last decade, electrification rate in India has increased by many folds.  As per the records of World Bank, Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) in the year 2014, the rate of electricity access in India is 79.2%. The Census data of 2011 reveals that households with electricity access have increased from 56% to 67%. Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY) a flagship program played a major role in increasing the electrification rate in villages. Despite of such rapid and incredible progress rural electrification rate is still a matter of concern.

Electrification Rate in India
Source: MNREGA, May 2015

To investigate the electricity trend in rural India, a research study was conducted by Ms. Eugenie Dugua, Mr. Ruinan Liu and Dr. Johannes Urpelainen of Columbia University in 2014 to 2015. The study covered 714 villages in six energy-poor states of northern and eastern India. The study was conducted by MORSEL Research and Development Pvt Ltd; a Lucknow Research Consulting company, on behalf of these researchers.

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Caste and economic differences play crucial role

As compared to census in 2011 and the data collected in 2014 and 2015, it was found that there have been changes in rural electricity access in India under the National Electrification Program. Although a village’s proximity to a town is not a determining factor of electricity access anymore. However, caste and economic differences between villages show differences in electricity access amongst the villages. This condition prevails within the village as well. The study is indicative of the fact that poor and schedule caste populated villages have lower electricity access as compared to wealthy and upper caste people. The study reveals that lower caste households have around 14- 15 percent lower electricity access as compared to upper caste people.

The study also revealed that RGGVY has successfully implemented its electrification program by targeting the villages with low electrification rates. Also, it has resulted in rapid improvements in electricity access. Although RGGVY offered free connections to the poor rural households, but the unaffordable monthly electricity bills proved to be a barrier. The research also highlighted that since RGGVY is prioritizing poor families, wealth remains a predictor of electricity access. Even if the wealth factor is ignored, the data collected from upper caste households show higher electricity access as compared to lower caste households. This indicates that caste composition determines electricity access. The findings of the study also reveal the roles of grid extension and micro grid extension in electrification cannot be undermined. However, off grid electrification would play an important role and could be a good strategy for rural electrification. For universal electrification and to focus on the deprived and socially disadvantaged people that are linked to the national grid there is no requirement of off-grid solutions.

With the aim of “Urja Kranti” and universal electricity access the Government of Uttar Pradesh in 2017 has announced free connections to BPL households and 18 hours of electricity supply. However, the APL households will be provided connections at a reasonable rate. Rs 4843 Crore have been allocated in this year’s Central Budget for rural electrification program. With such steps, the Government needs to analyze if the persisting socio-economic inequalities would take rural electrification to a forward direction. Even if the rural people are ready to accept these electricity reforms, the problem of unaffordability of monthly electricity bills would remain the same.

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